wine

Introducing: Piedmont – Italy’s great wine region

As you drive up and around the gently rolling hills of the Piedmont region in Italy, it becomes clear that the area is known for a specific key export:  wine.

Grape vines are everywhere.  AND if you have the pleasure of touring the area in the beginning of September as I did this year, you’ll be sure to spot several hardworking Italians tending their soon-to-be-harvested crops – just as their ancestors have done for centuries.

A Piedmont vineyard where a tractor has kicked up some dust while driving through the vines

A Piedmont vineyard where a tractor has kicked up some dust while driving through the vines

My boyfriend and I traveled to the region last month for a friend’s wedding and were shocked by the scarcity of American tourists. The region is about a two hour drive southwest of Milan and produces wines that rival those from Tuscany (in fact, the region’s famous Barolo wines are known as the “King of Wines”). The most famous of the Piedmont wines are from the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco, and we were lucky enough to tour both hillside villages while sipping their local products.

Tasting wine at Marchesi di Barolo

Tasting wine at Marchesi di Barolo

Vines in the Piedmont region

Vines in the Piedmont region

Because of the location of our friend’s wedding, we stayed in a very tiny town called Castiglione Tinella at the Albergo Castiglione B&B. While the hotel classifies itself as a B&B, I would argue that it is more like a small boutique hotel. Before the trip we decided to spend a little extra for a room with a shared balcony so we could sip our coffee in the morning while peering past the local buildings to the vineyards on the nearby hillside.

The door and window to our balcony at the hotel

The door and window to our balcony at the hotel

While the breakfast spread and friendly hotel staff were enough to justify the cost of our pleasant stay, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we wondered over to the hotel’s pool area on the outskirts of town! It looked like something out of a travel magazine.

The pool deck at Albergo Castiglione overlooking the neighboring hills

The pool deck at Albergo Castiglione overlooking the neighboring hills

Breakfast spread at Albergo Castiglione

Breakfast spread at Albergo Castiglione

They had an immaculately manicured garden area with an infinity pool that overlooked the surrounding hills. On one of the days we were there, the sky was so clear we were even able to see the Alps in the distance – roughly 100 miles away! If you squint, you can spot their snowy caps in the photo below. As someone who loves wine, scenery, and summertime, the scene felt like my personal Eden.

LOVING the view

LOVING the view

While the hotel experience and amenities were excellent, the location was about a half hour drive from the two aforementioned Piedmont towns that we were most interested in touring. Both Barolo and Barbaresco have their own distinct personalities, despite being quite close to each other as the crow flies. Barolo feels like a busy market town, complete with touristy kitsch, an old castle, and many enotecas (wine shops). Barbaresco is much smaller and more laid back, with the town running down a single road from the historic enoteca to the old tower (Torre di Barbaresco).

Marchesi di Barolo stores and ages its wine in these large oak barrels, which help add flavor

Marchesi di Barolo stores and ages its wine in these large oak barrels, which help add flavor

Wine bottles from the 1800's when the Marchesi di Barolo vineyard was first established!

Wine bottles from the 1800’s when the Marchesi di Barolo vineyard was first established!

Walking along the streets in the town of Barolo

Walking along the streets in the town of Barolo

View of the Enoteca Regionale from the main road in Barbaresco

View of the Enoteca Regionale from the main road in Barbaresco

After touring both towns, I find it difficult to recommend one over the other. When it came to wine, I preferred Barolo’s rich, luxurious reds. However, I enjoyed Barbaresco’s serene ambiance lacking crowds of tourists. While we were in Barbaresco, there was a point in the late afternoon (around 4:30pm) when we reached the top of the old tower and no one else was there – we had our own private 360-degree views for nearly ten minutes! How completely unfathomable to be alone at a tourist landmark in Europe in late summer!

Taking selfies on the top of the tower - because there was literally no one to take our photo!

Taking selfies on the top of the tower – because there was literally no one to take our photo!

View of the town of Barbaresco from the top of the tower (Torre di Barbaresco)

View of the town of Barbaresco from the top of the tower (Torre di Barbaresco)

We highly enjoyed our weekend in the Piedmont region, and recommend to anyone who loves wine that they should visit before it is “discovered” by more Americans.

Hotels:

Albergo Castiglione – Castiglione Tinella

Villa Pattono – Costigliole d’Asti

Restaurants:

Caffe Roma – Costiglione d’Asti

Verderame – Castiglione Tinella

Trattoria Antica Torre – Barbaresco

Divin – Barolo (good for a quick lunch)

Vineyards, Enotecas, and Tastings:

Marchesi di Barolo – Barolo

Ceretto – Alba (excellent tasting experience with great view)

Enoteca Regionale del Barolo – Barolo (automated wine tasting)

Enoteca Regionale de Barbaresco – (located inside a former 19th century church)

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San Francisco Trip In Review: Day Trip to Sonoma County Wineries

On the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend my boyfriend and I were staying at his brother’s apartment in San Rafael (along with our other friend Liz), and the four of us decided to venture up the road to the Healdsburg area for the day. Since Derek’s brother was not drinking that day, we lucked out with a built in designated driver/chauffer (thanks Matt!).

After doing a lot of online research, I booked us a FREE 10am winery tour at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards along Dry Creek Road. Several women had written on TripAdvisor that it was their favorite vineyard in the area, so I definitely didn’t want to pass it up!

Our group at Ferrari Carano - me, Derek, Matt, and Liz!

Our group at Ferrari-Carano – me, Derek, Matt, and Liz!

The experience did not disappoint.

The main house at the vineyard was built to resemble a Tuscan villa, and the vineyard itself had stunning landscaping and fountains that reminded me of the orderly and beautifully-planned designs you would find in a typical Italian style garden. We could not help but take photos at the grounds – especially since we were there so early that we beat the crowds!

Me and Derek on the grounds at Ferrari Carano Vineyard

Me and Derek on the grounds at Ferrari-Carano Vineyard

Gardens at Ferrari Carano Vineyard

Gardens at Ferrari-Carano Vineyard

Villa and tasting rooms at Ferrari Carano Vineyard

Villa and tasting rooms at Ferrari-Carano Vineyard

Touring the gardens at Ferrari Carano Vineyard

Touring the gardens at Ferrari-Carano Vineyard

Ferrari Carano vineyard estate

Grape vines at the Ferrari-Carano vineyard estate

Derek and I in one of the many barrel storage rooms

Derek and I in one of the many barrel storage rooms

As part of the tour we were given a one-hour tour of the wine-making facilities, vineyard grounds, and the two tasting rooms – all while hearing the history of the estate and an explanation of its nearly perfect organic-level status (a 4 out of a 5 level ranking system). Our tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable, and I ended up taking the below video of her explanation of the grape growing process to help showcase the type of knowledge you learn on the tour.

After the tour ended, we decided to pay for the more expensive tasting fee, where we were able to try some of the top wines that Ferrari-Carano produces (including some that are ONLY available if you visit the vineyard). We ended up splurging on our two favorites to bring home:  the 2010 PreVail Back Forty ($85) and the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($41). Along with that, we registered for their semi-annual wine club shipment ($160/shipment), and were pleasantly surprised to receive the first batch within a week of our trip home!

Derek and me in the wine tasting room at Ferrari Carano

Derek and me in the downstairs wine tasting room at Ferrari Carano (so fun!)

After leaving Ferrari-Carano we went to the next vineyard down Dry Creek Road called Dutcher Crossing, which was originally begun by a family from Wisconsin. The views were almost as exquisite as those at Ferrari-Carano, and the woman in the tasting room provided fantastic customer service. I had read positive reviews on TripAdvisor while I was researching the region, and our group was very pleased with the stop choice.

Dutcher Crossing entrance

Dutcher Crossing entrance

In my opinion, the wine at Dutcher Crossing was unique, and I fell in love with their 2013 Stuhlmuller Chardonnay (not available online). I’m typically not a Chardonnay fan due to how tangy I often find that type of wine to be, but this one was crisp and refreshing like an apple. It was the only white wine that we purchased that day, and I cannot wait to enjoy it during a warm summer evening on our balcony at home.

The other wine that we loved from Dutcher Crossing was the Proprietor’s Reserve 2013 Zinfandel ($30), which had a delicious flavor. Although we ended up purchasing only two bottles at Dutcher Crossing, we came very close to signing up for their wine club as well (and also close to buying a few of the floral scented candles in their shop). I’m actually quite surprised that our tipsiness at that point didn’t get the better of us!

Me and Derek after our wine tasting at Dutcher Crossing

Me and Derek after our wine tasting at Dutcher Crossing

Gorgeous view of the vineyard grounds at Dutcher Crossing

Gorgeous view of the vineyard grounds at Dutcher Crossing

Before heading to the third and last winery of the day, our group decided to stop in the town of Healdsberg for a quick lunch. A French café called Costeaux had an incredible write-up in the my California guidebook, so we took a chance to see if we could get a table – and we were in luck! The restaurant had a sunny, open feeling and was decorated in a beautiful Provincial style, which created a cheerful atmosphere. Further, each of our plates arrived with artfully-presented food that tasted as good as it looked!

The wall decor at Costeaux in Healdsburg, CA

The wall decor at Costeaux in Healdsburg, CA

costeaux food

My omelette and tea at Costeaux

costeaux french toast

The french toast at Costeaux

After finishing lunch, our last winery visit of the day was Francis Ford Coppola, which is a brand we often see (and occasionally buy) in NYC. We had heard great things about the grounds, but were most intrigued by the museum within the building.

Francis Ford Coppola tasting room building near Healdsburg, CA

Francis Ford Coppola tasting room building near Healdsburg, CA

The vineyard is owned by the Coppola family (of Hollywood renown). As you wander around, you can see a variety of props and memorabilia from some of the movies they have directed, including the Godfather movies and Tucker. They even had some of their Oscars on display! It was fun to see a piece of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood during a trip to Northern California.

DSC07174 DSC07175 DSC07177 DSC07181

After the third and final vineyard, we decided to make our way back to San Rafael for a calm evening before our planned roadtrip to Mendocino the next day. As we journeyed the hour back to the Marin County town, I realized how blessed we were to spend a day in the gorgeous valleys of Sonoma County wine country during sunny, mid 70-degree weather. Of all of the experiences that we had on our trip to San Francisco, our day in Sonoma was my favorite.

Me and Derek smiling while soaking up the Sonoma, California sunshine!

Me and Derek smiling while soaking up the Sonoma, California sunshine!

The last thing I will mention is that shipping the four bottles of wine home that we purchased was not an easy task and should be planned in advance. Our first folly was that we originally tried to ship the wine on the Monday of Memorial Day – but soon learned that USPS and UPS were both closed on those days AND FedEx has a policy not to ship wine. As a result, we were forced to wake up at 7am on Tuesday before our flight to take the bottles to the UPS store in Union Square.

Our four wine bottle purchases prior to being boxed up in the UPS shipment

Our four wine bottle purchases prior to being boxed up in the UPS shipment

All in, we bought wine shipping packaging material for about $20 and the cost of shipping was about $45. We learned a lesson that when we buy wine in Italy later this year, we will buy a special suitcase in advance to check the wine so it travels with us on the plane. That said, while the cost to ship the bottles home was steep, the sentimental value of having souvenirs from Sonoma to enjoy at our leisure was worth the money for us. We now have four incredible bottles of wine aging in our wine fridge waiting to be enjoyed on a special occasion – or when we feel a ping of nostalgia about our trip!

Cheers to that!